Sunday, August 19, 2012

Exploring Taipei

I could have not asked for a smoother journey to Taiwan, and I have multiple people to thank for that.  It began Tuesday when I took a train south to Busan where I stayed with Harriet and her son for the night.  I first met Harriet when my Aunt, Uncle and cousins came to visit back in April but she was nice enough to open her home to me for my early flight to Taiwan.Upon arriving I was met by Yu-ru, a girl I came into contact with through CouchSurfing.  She was kind enough to help me get a SIM card for my phone and MRT (subway) card - both of which making the next 10 days of travel much easier.  Unfortunately she had to go to work later that afternoon so we did not have much time to visit but I appreciate her help.

I caught the bus to Taipei and soon found myself in the apartment of a stranger - Grant, another CouchSurfing connection, and my home for the next few days. I have a feeling some of you (that aren't familiar with CouchSurfing) may think i'm crazy, but do a little research or just listen to the rest of my story, and you'll see it's legit.  After spending a few hours talking, getting a locksmith to unlock his bedroom door  and enjoying a delicious beer we decided to head to Grant's friends apartment for a rooftop BBQ.  On the way we made a stop for more beer and some Guava (not my favorite) but better if you sprinkle the "drugs" on it (I think it was actually plum? powder). I must say the availability, spread and price of the fruit in Taiwan was a definite bonus. That night I met some awesome people, ate some delicious chicken, beef, mango and pepper BBQ and took in the sites and sounds of Taipei. We called it an earlyish night as we were planning to meet another of Grant's friends the next morning at 8:30 for a hike.

After our hike we decided to catch a bus to the Palace Museum - one of the must see's for tourists in Taiwan, plus it was a good activity for a rainy day.  The museum holds close to 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artwork but the impressive part is the age of some of the pieces, dating back over 8,000 years.  It's interesting how the art wound up in Taiwan as general Chiang Kai-Shek "ran away" with the work during the Chinese Civil War.

Friday was my first day to explore the city so I made my way west on the subway getting off at Longshan Temple and making my way back to the Ximen shopping/market district and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.  The subway ride was fairly pleasant, despite the fact that there was a 16 year old boy staring at me for the first 20 minutes. Nothing new, I mean I'm used to the stares in Korea, but I feel like he wanted to say something, just never did.

The temple was packed but understandably so, the architecture was amazing (and a pleasant change from the temples and palaces in Korea). Longshan was originally constructed in 1738 and consists of three halls with the fore hall used for people to worship. After the temple I decided to wander the street - assuming that I was making my way towards Ximen (a popular shopping district) but soon found myself at the gates of the Botanical gardens.  Maybe i've been spoiled with my previous experiences (Greendale, Sydney, Chicago) but the gardens were a bit of a let down, that and most of the pathways were under construction, but still it was a nice stop for the day.

After taking a look (or two) at my map I reoriented myself and made my way back towards Ximen.  I was considering skipping the area but I was also told there were good food options and I was getting hungry/thirsty so I made my way there.  The highlight of the afternoon (okay maybe an exaggeration) was the Banana smoothie I bought there, although the accompanied brain freeze wasn't as enjoyable.  I wandered the streets for a while, checked out some shoes and trinkets and continued on my way.  I soon found myself outside the 2/28 peace park commemorating the 228 Massacre which took place February 28, 1947 killing up to 30,000 civilians making it one of the most important events in Taiwan's modern history.

Memorial statue at 2/28 peace park 
A little more walking and I found myself at the Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall - and wow, talk about an entrance.  The front gate of memorial hall square (240,000 square meteres) was beyond impressive, and surprisingly not gorged with tourists.  The park also contains the National Theater and National Concert Hall - both of which were extremely impressive buildings. I'm not sure why but the stairs to the hall were blocked off so I couldn't go up for a closer look of the statue of Chiang Kai-shek, who by the way was an influential leader of the Nationalist party in China and became the President of the Republic of China until death his in 1975.  After a day of walking, sweating, sight seeing and eating I made my way back to Grants apartment to relax before going out with Grant and some friends for real pizza and a going away party. It was funny because some of the guys (whom we both met that night) thought Grant and I were close friends - we fooled them, only met 2 days ago!

Love the architecture 
National Concert Hall

Memorial hall from the concert hall  

FF to Sunday morning (you can read about the nights and hikes in future posts) I ventured out with Grants second CouchSurfer for the week, Cory.  As Grant appeared to be dead to the world we decided to navigate our way towards the Taipei 101 building and Sun Yat-sen memorial hall. The memorial was not quite as impressive as Chiang Kai-shek but this time I was actually able to see the monument inside. I remember hearing mixed opinions on weather or not to pay the admission to the top floor of the 101 building but i'd definitely say it was worth it.  We made our way up (on the fastest elevator in the world - 55ft/sec) just as a storm was rolling into town - made some awesome views and pictures.  The tower is currently the second tallest in the world at 508m, recently surpassed in 2010 by the Burj Kalifa in Dubai.

Sun Yat-sen memorial hall
Taipei 101

View West - Grants apartment is down there somewhere

View North, storms coming in
Damper which prevents the building from falling over 
Done in just under two days that constitues the majority of touristy thing I did during my time in Taiwan.  I'm sure there is a lot more to see in Taipei but I had more to see and do - you know I can't sit still for too long! 


  1. Do you actually remember all this information while you're sight seeing - tell me you take notes! The information and facts you provide are absolutely amazing - for me it's like watching one of my travel shows. Wonderful storyteller Love you, Mom

  2. When did you go to Sydney? I feel like I knew when you did this and/or we talked about it. We'll need to reminisce about Sydney some time when you get back...or when i come out there ;)